One of the magical qualities of a word is its ability to defy definitions. The world is full of dictionaries, and we use those dictionaries to help us understand words. Yet no dictionary ever quite captures every nuance of the meaning of a word. The magnificent human mind exceeds the ability of words to transmit our richest meanings. Dictionaries help us, and we constantly tweak the dictionaries to assure that they get closer to the truth. Yet the meaning of a single word in human speech in any language is never exactly what we think it is.
Dictionary definitions are never quite complete
Take equality, for example.
An important truth that we glean from the Bible is the teaching that every person is equal before God. The Founders of the United States applies that teaching in the Declaration of Independence and in the government they defined in the US Constitution. The principle of eauality was integral to the lifestyle and worldview of the Christians who founded the country, and the story of that founding is a beautiful example of people living out their faith in every part of their lives. History, however, has a way of reshaping words that results in confusion when people use a word whose historic usage and contemporary usage are at odds with each other.
The word equality has a storied past, rich in service for the good of mankind. Yet, as soon as you read the word mankind in my sentence, many of you will flinch at the gender implications of the word and wonder if I am insensitive or simply ignorant. Women around the world have fought for gender equality, yet I, a woman, use the word mankind to speak of all human beings! The uproar surrounding the use of the word mankind is precisely the sort of uproar that surrounds the use of the word equality, yet those who protest its misuse and abuse are rarely heard above the cacophony of campaigns and agendas to achieve equality by ignoring the historic and common-sense usage of the word.
Mathematical equality is a clear and simple concept
The word equality used in mathematics has an undisputed meaning. For example: 2+2=4 because mathematically speaking, no other answer is possible. Equations use symbols for mathematical concepts and measurements, and an equation states an equality that can be verified in the physical world: E=mc2. Mathematical equalities are truly equal to the last decimal point. Using such equalities allows architects to design skyscrapers that do not fall down, rocket scientists to put men on the moon, and homemakers to bake angel food cakes. There is no dispute about what equality means in mathematics.
Political and social equality is not so clear and not at all simple
Not so in the world of political and social justice. In these realms, which have merged into a single bitter stew in recent years, the meaning of the word equality depends entirely on the usage preferred by the speaker or writer. It is not at all uncommon to hear an argument in which two people use the word equality with equal fervency to mean two completely different things.
Why do Christians care about the social and political arguments over equality?
Why do Christians care? Christians care, because everyone, Christian or non-Christian, lives in that bitter stew every day. The social and political changes being proposed and even wrought in the name of equality assault the public daily. Christians must be prepared to address these issues, because the changes affect Christians in their lives and in their work in profound ways. The agendas which use the word equality to advance their causes are changing the face of US culture in ways most citizens could not have imagined as recently as June of 2008.
The Supreme Court decision muddied rather than clarified things
In 2013 the US Supreme Court announced a decision after review of two cases involving some of the elements being argued by deliberately aggressive usage of the word equality. One case looked at the federal Defense of Marriage Act, while the other examined a state act, California’s Proposition 8. Both cases revolved around the meaning of the word marriage, but the outcome of the cases has been centered on the redefinition of equality before the law.
Political and social activism uses the word equality to suppress discussion of the word marriage
This post will not address the issues of defining the word marriage, but the use of the term equality has been the most subtle part of the campaign to lead the culture to accept the idea that two people of the same gender can marry. The term equality coupled with the word marriage has slipped under the radar of a lot of people. Gay marriage may sound offensive to some ears, but who can argue with the idea of marriage equality? The use of this term implies that the definition of marriage is not the issue. The campaign to legitimize the concept that a union of two people of the same gender is a marriage has leaped over the definition of marriage altogether and seized upon something almost everyone admires – equality. Even religious leaders who might have previously choked at the idea of a wedding of two men or two women have swallowed the idea of marriage equality.
Political and social activists use the word equality to twist the meaning of the word marriage
The deep basis for using the term equality yoked with the word marriage is to lead the argument down the path of civil rights. In this context, the word equality is used to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It seizes upon the phrase “equal protection of the laws” as a basis for arguing that homosexuals are being denied “equal protection of the laws.” (The argument for “equal protection” also requires acceptance of an unfounded assertion that science has proved that homosexuality is congenital rather than a choice. This post does not encompass the refutation of that argument, but this writer rejects the hypotheses offered in lieu of actual proof.) This argument only has meaning if the definition of marriage has been changed. No such change has taken place, but by focusing on equality, the whole argument assumes a common agreement on the definition of marriage. If the proposition of equality is agreed upon, the definition of marriage is transformed as the inevitable consequence of redefining equality.
One important consequence of pretending that the word equality negates a discussion of the meaning of the word marriage is the assumption by advocates of marriage equality that they have side-stepped a discussion of biblical teaching. If equality is the issue in a country where all citizens are equal before the law, then in the minds of the activists, the word marriage already means what they want it to mean. The battle for the meaning of words is not trivial, because the revision to the meaning of the word equality is now making an assault on the concept of the family as well.
Christians stumble over the word equality when they should be focused on God’s unchanging truth
In the realm of Christian faith, the word equality is being used to suppres discussion of the Bible’s teachings about marriage and sexuality. Before the throne of God humans are all equally sinful. What made homosexuals more sinful than anyone else? Those who willingly accept speculation in place of real science will assert that if homosexuality is congenital, then God created some people homosexual and some people left-handed. If that is true, then Christians who reject homosexuality and homosexual unions, are judging God’s own handiwork and marginalizing people who are simply different. Proponents of marriage equality ask, did God really say that homosexuality was wrong? (Do you hear Satan in the Garden of Eden whispering to Eve, “Did God say …?”) Some Christians actually believe that humans have learned so much about science and human relationships that they have outgrown the Bible. In the name of marriage equality they absorb contemporary social and political agendas and assert that Christians must not discriminate against homosexuals who want to marry like everybody else. God loves homosexuals, too.
Of course he does. He loved the thief on the cross. He loves murderers on death row. Humans are, indeed, all equally sinful in his eyes. We are all saved by grace through Christ. But this salvation does not justify theft, murder, or perversion of God’s highest institutions. The biblical teaching that marriage is a time/space copy of the eternal/infinite relationship between God and his church cannot be simply ignored by redefining our universal unrighteousness before God.
Satan must be very happy about this development. Satan is always pleased when human beings believe any lie. Satan promotes the lie that homosexuality is congenital, and condemns God and the Bible for calling homosexuality a sin. How can it be fair, they cry, to call inborn behavior a sin? Did God just make a mistake when he inspired biblical writers to condemn homosexuality? Or does the Bible not actually mean what the words appear to mean? Can we really believe that Scripture is our divinely inspired source for guidance in all areas of faith and life and still believe that God just made a mistake when he proscribed homosexuality? Did God think ancient writers and readers could not handle the truth? Or worse, do we believe that God merely failed to give us a complete revelation? Did God mess up?
Christians must wisely discern truth, because equality
is only one of many words whose meanings are manipulated in the public forum
Equality is a wonderful thing, but just like the gift of sexuality, it can be perverted. Every Christian must engage in the disciplines that nourish a mature faith and pray for deep discernment in order to see the many ways Satan daily contrives to deceive them about the truth. The deceptive manipulation of the meaning of the word equality is only one example.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love, available at Amazon . You can learn more about Katherine at Living on Tilt . If you are an author who is looking for an editor, visit Katherine Harms, Editor, and learn how to she can help you prepare your manuscript for publication.
This post is based on a post previously published January 4, 2013, at http://wp.me/pXp5J-N8
Photo credit: Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)